All eyes in the college football world currently sit fixed on the University of Miami football program, the latest target of the Yahoo! Sports hit squad, and maybe the most spectacular target yet.
And it all comes back to one man: Nevin Shapiro, the mastermind of a South Florida Ponzi scheme that netted him almost $900 million, and eventually, landed him in Federal Prison. For more than a year now, Shapiro's been peddling a book full of allegations against Miami. He calls it The Real U: 2001 to 2010. Inside the Eye of the Hurricane, and he's also the principal source behind Yahoo! Sports' latest report.
But beyond his allegations, Shapiro offers a pretty fascinating story in his own right. As Luther Campbell, the Godfather of Miami football, recalled in 2010: "He told me he was in investing in import and export of groceries. He tried to explain his business model to me, but it was over my head. We had one more meeting over dinner. He introduced me to his supposed partner and some sports agent who was going to be involved as well. But there was something off about the whole thing."
Luke added, "if Shapiro is behind the Ponzi scheme, that ain't cool. There is nothing worse than a Ponzi schemer. You can't be fucking with other people's money." And that's why Uncle Luke's the greatest.
As for Shapiro, that's just the tip of shadiness iceberg. Check out this sprawling profile from 2010. His whole life encompassed the sort of insanity and excess generally reserved for movies. On the one hand, some of it hurts Shapiro's credibility as a whistleblower. Like this:
The truth is, Shapiro has lived his whole life surrounded by fraud. His stepfather was convicted of stealing millions decades ago, and his longtime girlfriend and business partner was indicted this past summer for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars by bilking a beauty supply company. He's a violent, unstable liar who nearly blinded a SoBe club owner with a sucker punch in the mid-'90s and threatened his ex-employees.
"A guy like this, you can't possibly throw him in prison for long enough," says Jack Hulse, a Sarasota retiree who lost $440,000 to Shapiro and recently sold a house to pay it off. "You can't convey how many people he hurt so badly, and everyone was so willing to trust him for no reason."
On the other hand...
He was also an obsessive University of Miami fan. In 1992, a Miami Herald reporter interviewed the then-23-year-old Shapiro in the Orange Bowl stands during a Hurricanes game. As the 'Canes fell behind , the writer described Shapiro as looking like "a caged animal about to be cornered... [or] a man in dire need of sleep. He looked crazed."
Years later, a judge asked one of Shapiro's friends whether the Beach High grad ever becomes violently angry. The reply: "Only when the Hurricanes are losing."
Doesn't this sound like exactly the sort of guy who might try to use his money to influence college sports? Especially if he'd spent a lifetime making a fortune by cheating the system? He also started a sports management company with the specific goal of building around Miami football players, which doesn't sound like a breeding ground for corruption at all.
Bottom line: As all this unfolds, you'll hear a thousand different people call this guy's character into question, but they're missing the point. Nobody at the center of an NCAA investigation will be coming in with sparkling credibility, and next to Willie Lyles, John Bond, and every other whistleblower we've met over the past 12 months, there's always a question about credibility and hidden agendas. That's what the NCAA creates by not paying players. Shapiro just happened to be insanely rich (and insane).
So what's the important lesson from all this? That Nevin Shapiro's already the most awesomely batshit college football villain we've seen in years, and we should enjoy this scandal for all it's worth. He was "like a caged animal" in the stands at Miami games? The more we find out, the more it sounds like Miami's no. 1 booster was straight out of a Scorsese movie:
Securities and Exchange Commission filings show he had "millions in gambling debts." Shapiro would lay $25,000 or more on several NFL and college football games every weekend, says an associate who asked not to be named.
Once, after a big win, a Federal Express box overflowing with cash arrived at the Bay Road mansion. Shapiro dramatically poured the bills all over his kitchen counter while laughing hysterically, the source says.
Aren't you excited to learn more about this guy's life story?
Seriously, college sports are the best.
Running way behind on other features today, so that's all for Talking Points this afternoon. In the meantime, please enjoy the strangest, most hilarious NBA interview of the summer.